How this women's collective used art to campaign for better bus mobility in Bengaluru
Alli Serona is a collective of civil society organisations, creators, and think tanks working for the needs of women from the informal sector in Bengaluru.
Pavitra, a 26-year-old resident of Vijayanagar, Bengaluru, has to navigate through narrow lanes, dodging traffic, to reach the nearest bus stop, which is a kilometre away from her house.
Whenever she heads out on household errands, it takes her nearly 20 minutes to reach the bus stop.
"If there’s a stop closer to my house, it would be a great help," she says.
So, when Bengaluru-based collective Alli Serona kicked off its advocacy campaign last month seeking bus stops in less accessible areas of the city, Pavitra and many other people from her area immediately joined the initiative.
The campaign used an art installation to drive home its point–a collapsible, wooden version of a bus stop, envisaged and co-created by women working in the informal sector, including house help, tailors, and flower vendors.
The installation was moved across different neighbourhoods in Bengaluru–Hosa Nagar, Seegehalli, AKG area, and Byrasandra–from October 5 to 21, in a bid to raise awareness and address the transportation needs of people.
Alli Serona (‘let’s meet there’ in Kannada) is a collective of civil society organisations, creators, and think tanks, working for the needs of women from the informal workforce in Bengaluru.
The collective's stakeholders include Association for Promoting Social Action, a non-profit organisation based in Bengaluru; Bengawalk, an initiative spearheaded by architect and filmmaker Pravar Chaudhary and street photographer Puneet Sachdev; Studio Sorted, a design studio; and Bengaluru Moving, a collective working on mobility-related initiatives in the city.
Earlier this year, Alli Serona conducted an audit across nine communities in the city to assess the accessibility of bus stops for women employed in the informal workforce. The collective found that, in many areas, women had to travel around 1-2 km or more to reach the nearest stop.
This challenge sparked the need for a campaign to press for improved access to bus stops, so that women in the informal workforce could benefit better from the city's bus network.
In June, the Karnataka government had launched the Karnataka Shakti Scheme to provide free bus travel to women and people from the transgender community, anywhere in the state, without any limits on the distance travelled.
The four road transport corporations under the scheme are Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation, Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation, North West Karnataka Road Transport Corporation, and Kalyana Karnataka Road Transport Corporation.
“Women cannot benefit from the Shakti Scheme if buses don’t come to their areas or if the nearest bus stop is 2-5 km away. These reasons reduce the likelihood of women using the bus, even though it’s free,” says Mallika Arya, a member of Bengaluru Moving.
What the art installation featured
The installation featured a collapsible pavilion with a colourful canopy crafted from Kowdhi fabric (Kowdhi is a traditional hand quilting technique practised in Karnataka). The pavilion was designed as an immersive exhibition space wherein visitors could walk in and interact with screens that showcased the experiences of women with the bus system in Bengaluru.
At the heart of the exhibit was a ‘voting seat’, fashioned like the iconic BMTC (Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation) bus seat, integrated with technology, for women to sit and vote for a new bus stop in their neighbourhood.
“This installation was more than a structure; it was a conversation piece, a bridge connecting stories, design, technology, and community,” says Netra Ajjampur, Co-founder of Studio Sorted.
As the bus stop had to be moved across locations, it was designed and built in such a way that all the elements were detachable and could be assembled on site. Most elements used in the structure were made from recycled materials or rented to make the entire effort as low-waste as possible.
“In such deployable structures, efforts go into keeping the assembly process as simple as possible, urging us to design smarter, simpler solutions, reducing labour efforts and risks during transportation,” explains Ajjampur.
Instilling hope through art
Bharti, a 48-year-old woman, is a tailor who lives in Seegehalli. She has to travel to KR Puram every day to buy cloth. Although the bus stop is just a stone’s throw away from her house, it is in a dilapidated condition without proper seats.
Moreover, Bharti says, local vendors have surrounded the bus stop and many passersby park their cars in front of it, due to which buses do not stop here.
“There are a lot of children and women who are facing problems," she says.
As a result, Bharti has to travel by an auto rickshaw to Bhattrahalli to catch a bus, which costs her Rs 150. And if she is not able to catch the bus at Bhattrahalli on time, she ends up spending more money on another auto ride to reach KR Puram.
So, when she came to know about the collective’s initiative through a self-help group, she was eager to pitch in. She helped the collective in creating the bus installation and decorating it with flowers.
“I felt our problems were being heard for the first time,” says Bharti.
Calling the campaign “innovative”, she says, “I am hopeful that the authorities will listen to us and construct a proper bus stop in the area. Additionally, I hope measures will be taken to ensure that bus drivers stop at the designated bus stops.”
Arya of Bengaluru Moving believes art has always aroused people’s interest and drawn their attention to social issues.
"With this art installation, we wanted to provide a platform to women from the informal workforce so that they can voice their problems and actively engage in decision-making processes, ultimately contributing to the enhancement of public transport service,” she says.
After the campaign ended, the votes were counted and the proposed bus routes and bus stop locations were submitted to BMTC. Byrasandra garnered maximum support with 1,300 votes, followed by the AKG area (940), Hosa Nagar (411 votes), and Seegehalli (1113).
“BMTC will soon be doing a feasibility study,” says Arya.
She explains that, when a request for a new route or route modification is submitted, BMTC sends a team across to survey the area. Following the survey, a report is submitted with modifications and suggestions regarding the proposed route.
If a proposed route is approved, BMTC allocates a depot, a bus, a driver, a conductor, and additional resources as needed. The ridership on this route is monitored and the schedule is adjusted accordingly. The bus stops are maintained by Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP).
If a proposed route is not approved, BMTC will share the reasons for the same, and a new request may be taken up in future, says Arya.
“The acceptance (of the collective’s proposal) and positive response of BMTC is a small win for us and we hope to get a similar response from BBMP as well,” she adds, with hope.
Edited by Swetha Kannan